The power of beliefs to influence teaching
The teaching repertoire of any individual teacher is an amalgam of beliefs, knowledge and assumptions. Together these elements make up the person's unique ‘teaching schemata’.
The role of beliefs is particularly powerful. Williams and Burden 1997:56 report ‘a growing body of evidence to indicate that teachers are highly influenced by their beliefs, which in turn are closely linked to their values, to their views of the world and to their conceptions of their place within it.’ Pajares (1992), cited in Williams and Burden 1997:56, goes so far as to claim that teachers’ beliefs are more influential than their knowledge in determining teaching behaviour. Williams and Burden 1997:57 reiterate this: ‘Teachers’ beliefs about learning will affect everything they do in the classroom … deep-rooted beliefs ... will pervade their classroom actions more than a particular methodology they are told to adopt or course-book they follow.’
The term Belief generally refers to acceptance of a proposition for which there is no conventional knowledge, one that is not demonstrable, and for which there is accepted disagreement (Woods 1996: 195)
Knowledge refers to things we ‘know’ – conventionally accepted facts (which) …in our society today…generally means (something) that …has been demonstrated or is demonstrable (ibid: 195)
An Assumption, in contrast, is the temporary acceptance of a fact that we cannot say we know, and which has not been demonstrated but which we are taking as true for the time being (ibid: 195)
According to writers such as Woods, knowledge, assumptions and beliefs are part of a single system, where the more belief characteristics that are present, the more we can think of a structure as being a belief rather than knowledge. That is, beliefs, assumptions and knowledge are seen not as distinct concepts, but as points on a spectrum of meaning (ibid: 195)